Britain faces future with ‘white, privileged male’ as head of state, says Labour pressure group

Richard Burgon - Guy Smallman
Richard Burgon - Guy Smallman

Britain faces a “future with a white privileged male” as head of state for the next century, a Labour pressure group said on Saturday night.

Labour for a Republic proceeded with a fringe event on the eve of the annual party conference in Liverpool, defying calls for them to cancel it after the death of Elizabeth II.

Richard Burgon, a current Labour MP and a member of its Left-wing Socialist Campaign Group cohort, was among around 60 attendees and was publicly thanked by organisers for attending.

Describing the debate as “welcome”, Mr Burgon said: “We respect all views but it’s a really important discussion… I’m really glad this is taking place.”

“How can we not talk about whether or not a head of state should be elected?”

He described the tradition of MPs swearing an oath to a new monarch as “ridiculous”.

'Lead on this issue'

Leaflets handed out to attendees urged Labour to “lead on this issue” of abolishing the Royal family.

The flyers said: “With the late Queen’s reign now ended, Britain faces a future with a white, privileged male as head of state for the remainder of this century — at least.

“There’s little doubt that this will only accelerate calls for an end to the monarchy.

“Under a republican constitution, citizens, collectively, would be sovereign, with a head of state elected on merit and with responsibility for protecting our constitution.”

Polly Toynbee, a Guardian columnist and the first of three speakers at the event, said she had wanted the Queen to be Elizabeth “the last”.

“There never is a perfect time to talk about this,” she said. “There was no nanosecond between [the Queen] drawing her last breath and the crown being placed on her son’s head the next instant.”

Ms Toynbee argued for a ceremonial president who would only intervene “in case of a rogue Boris Johnson type person” and claimed “notions of royalty infantilise us all” — preventing Britain from being a “serious country”.

Paul Edwards, a former chairman of the Labour affiliated Fabian Society, claimed protesters had been “rounded up and taken off the streets like [in] North Korea” after the Queen’s death.

He went on to claim the “majority” of people who attended the lying in state were merely “protecting their own grief and their own loss… especially post-Covid” rather than mourning the monarch.

Labour delegates urged to sing national anthem

Audience members at the Quaker Meeting House included Jenny Rathbone, a Welsh Labour politician who has been a member of the Senedd since 2011.

Labour conference delegates will on Sunday be asked to sing the National Anthem after Sir Keir Starmer opens the event by leading tributes to the Queen under a giant projector screen bearing a black-and-white image of her.

In comments on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast on Saturday, Sir Keir’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn labelled the decision to sing God Save the Queen “very odd”.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, took aim at “sections of the Left” who were not proud of their country on the Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast earlier this week. She insisted being patriotic was a “Labour tradition”.

A spokesman for Sir Keir had distanced him from the meeting, referring to “everything Keir has done and said” during the 10-day period of national mourning.

The guide to panel events in Liverpool during the next four days includes the disclaimer: “The Labour Party is not responsible for the content of fringe meetings.”

Labour for the Republic insisted its “very valid conversation” had been planned for months and covered whether it was “right to have an undemocratically elected head of state”.